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Bingata - Textile Art of Okinawa


What is bingata?

'Bingata' or Ryukyu-bingata' translating to scarlet pattern ('scarlet' in this case is referring to all colours, and 'pattern' referring to the stencil used in bingata) is a traditional stencil dyeing technique using natural pigments and dyes from Okinawa.

Bingata are typically densely packed repetitive patterns and use bright colours of the sea, sky, greenery, and flowers, reflecting the colourful environment in Okinawa. You many recognise bingata by its typical bright yellow base colour decorated with scarlet, bright blue, violet, and green, although it is not set to these colours.

Aditionally with bingata, a single stencil is used for the pattern compared to most stencil dyes where multiple stencils are used to dye separate colours. This results in the colours blending beautifully in places where colours overlap, adding depth and liveliness to the patterns.


Originating from the 14th century during a prosperous period in Ryukyu (now Okinawa), the bingata took inspiration from textile art obtained from trade with Indonesia, China, and Java.


Formally worn only by royalty and people of high status, it is now enjoyed by many, and is one of the most famous crafts made in Okinawa.



How it Started

Bingata is said to originate from the 14th to 15th century, though some state it was earlier. Ryukyuans took inspiration from textile art obtained from trade, including Indian chintz, Indonesian batik, and Chinese stencil dyed prints, and developed their own style and techniques.

At first, bingata were only worn to display high political status, and in occasion by performers to entertain guests from outside Okinawa. On top of that, different colours were strictly assigned to different statuses, such as gold and yellow as formal wear for royalty, white on top of coloured wear as casual wear, light blue for nobles, and indigo for the third highest status. Rather surprisingly, once the dyeing process for one kimono for royalty or nobility had been finished, the stencil was returned or burned, as creating or wearing the same pattern as royalty and nobility was prohibited.


The Two Bingata Crisis'

By bad luck, the art of bingata was almost lost twice. The first crisis was in the late 1800s, when Ryukyu, a monarchy, was dissolved and became a domain of japan, being newly named Okinawa. The second was WWII, after the battle of Okinawa.


In 1879, Ryukyu was annexed and dissolved by Japan, turning Ryukyu into Okinawa prefecture, relocating the king of Ryukyu to Tokyo. Now, without the massive funding from royalty, bingata craftsmen resorted to making bingata for commoners, going from exclusively making formal wear to making wrapping cloths for transporting goods.

Before the bingata could be recuperated, the second crisis hit on 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa. This battle was dreadful, killing almost half the population of Okinawa in two months. After the war, two people coming from families that had been creating bingata for royalty since the dynastic period in Ryukyu returned to the battlefield and worked to revive bingata. These two, Chinen Sekko and Shiroma Eiki, started off by picking up maps left by sodiers to use as stencils, broken records as spatulas, bullet casings as piping tips for glue, lipstick as pigment, and successfully revived the art of bingata. By 1950, a preservation society for bingata had been founded, and by 1984 it was officially designated as one of the traditional crafts of Japan.



How a Bingata is Made

The process of bingata is quite interesting as it puts on view the resourcefulness and skill of people. Lets look into the process of bingata making, which makes use of dried out tofu and human hair...

The Process


Kyoto and Edo style Bingata

During the Genroku era (mid Edo period), as trade between neighbouring regions increases, Okinawan goods were brought to Edo and Kyoto. Artists from Edo and Kyoto took inspiration from bingata and combined the techniques and characteristics of textile art of their own, resulting in the creation of 'Kyo-bingata' and 'Edo-bingata'.

Kyo-bingata

Kyo-bingata, originating in Kyoto uses dyes for Kyo-yuzen, Kyoto's most known dyeing technique. The colour palette of these dyes can be described as 'hannari', which is also commonly used to describe crafts and goods made in Kyoto. Hannari could be translated into words like 'elegant' and 'beautiful' though the word is correlated more to the vibe of Kyoto-made crafts and arts than simply being elegant or beautiful.

Edo-bingata

Initially, the differences between Ryukyu-bingata, Kyo-bingata, and Edo-bingata were easily identifiable, however as current day bingata artists create completely new ideas, patterns and styles, they have become harder to categorise and identify into these traditional styles.


Finally

As times change, Ryukyu-bingata continues to survive, and has evolved through generation of craftsmen who work to preserve this art. Through sharing this article we hope that more people around the globe will develop an interest in this beautiful craft from Okinawa.

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